Approximately 80% of Africans live south of the Sahara desert. The indigenous peoples of sub-Saharan Africa are generally referred to as Negroes (a term widely viewed as offensive or antiquated in many countries today), black Africans, or simply blacks, due to the generally dark brown skin color of these peoples. However, there is a wide variety of physical types found amongst the sub-Saharan African peoples (two particular extremes are the Masai who are known for their tall stature, and Pygmies who are among the world's shortest adults). Recent genetic studies indicate that the black African population is indeed highly diverse, despite the perceived racial uniformity of the region.
Speakers of Bantu languages predominate in much of western, central, and southern Africa. In the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa, a distinct people known as the Bushmen (also "San" or "Hottentots") have long been present.
While "African" and "black" are often viewed as synonymous in much of the West, a large minority of Africans, especially in the northern and southern portions of the continent, are not black Africans.
The peoples of North Africa are primarily descended from the speakers of Afro-Asiatic languages. These peoples include the ancient Egyptians, the Berbers, and Nubians who developed civilizations in North Africa during ancient times. The Semitic Phoenicians, and the European Greeks and Romans settled in North Africa as well. In the 600s, Muslim Arabs swept across North Africa from the east and conquered the entire region within a hundred years. The North Africans today are descended from indigenous North Africans such as the Berbers, Ancient Europeans, Arabs, and black Africans from south of the Sahara. In general the Arab speaking population is highly mixed, and individuals in North African countries range in appearance from black Africans to people who resemble many European whites.
Berber peoples remain a significant minority within Morocco and Algeria, and are also present in Tunisia and Libya. The Tuareg and other often nomadic peoples are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa.
Peoples such as Ethiopians and Somalis are usually regarded as "black Africans", but historically are of mixed ancestry as well, and have links to both North African and sub-Saharan cultures. Several African nations, such as Sudan and Mauritania are divided between a mostly Arab north and a black African south (though many of the "Arabs" are essentially Arabized blacks or people of mixed origin).
Some areas of Eastern Africa, particularly the island of Zanzibar also received Arab and Asian Muslim settlers and merchants during the Middle Ages. Beginning in the 1500s, Europeans such as the Portuguese and Dutch began to establish trading posts and forts along the coasts of western and southern Africa. Eventually a large number of Dutch, augmented by French Huguenots and Germans settled in what is today South Africa. Their descenedants, the Afrikaners, are the largest white group in South Africa today.
In the 1800s a second phase of colonization brought a large number of French and British settlers to Africa. The French settled in large numbers in Algeria and on a smaller scale in other areas of North and West Africa. The British settled in South Africa as well as the colony of Rhodesia and in the highlands of Kenya. Smaller numbers of European soldiers, businessmen, and officials also established themselves in administrative centers such as Nairobi and Dakar.
Decolonization during the 1960s often resulted in the mass exodus of European descended settlers out of Africa, especially in Algeria, Kenya, and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). However in South Africa, the white minority (10% of the population) largely remained in the country after the end of white rule in 1994. South Africa also has a community of mixed-race people Coloured people.
European colonization also brought sizeable groups of Asians, particularly people from the Indian subcontinent to British colonies. Large Indo-African communities are found in South Africa, and smaller ones are present in Kenya and Tanzania. A fairly large Indian community in Uganda was expelled by the dictator Idi Amin in 1972.
Africans profess a wide variety of religious beliefs. The two most widespread religious communities of Africa, Christianity and Islam, have their roots in Southwest Asia, and approximately 40% of all Africans are Christians and another 40% Muslims. Some Africans (in Ethiopia and Egypt) adopted Christianity in the early centuries of the Christian Era - before most of Europe. However, Christianity was introduced to most of western and southern Africa by European missionaries or settlers during the colonial period.
Islam largely arrived in Africa through the Arab conquest of the north, and later diffusion through the Sahara desert into the interior of Afria. Some Muslim communities were also established by seafarers on the eastern coast of Africa. Muslims were also among the Asian peoples who settled in British ruled Africa.
Roughly 20% of Africans follow indigenous African religions. A small number of Africans also have beliefs from the Judaic tradition (Falashas, Lemba).
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Most northern countries, from Egypt to Morocco, have people who largely associate themselves as part of the Arabic culture. To the south of the Sahara, there are many distinct cultural areas, sometimes quite small; a large part of those can be associated to the linguistic group Bantu.
- List of African writers
- African art
Africa is home to a wide variety of different religious groups. Christianity and Islam have a significant presence in many countries, while others retain regionally unique tribal beliefs and customs.
Northern Africa (Some countries are included as part of the Middle East in some definitions of that term)
Saint Helena, being closest to Africa, has been included.
- in inhabitants/km2.
Egypt as a whole has been included, even though some of Egypt is located in Asia.
Unlike the figures in the country articles, the figures in this table are based on areas including inland water bodies (lakes, reservoirs, rivers) and may therefore be lower here.